"Rickie Lee is in the pantheon of the greatest artists of our generation. She is an uncompromising visionary. It isn't always easy but it's always worth it." Russ Titelman - Grammy winner and co-producer of two Rickie Lee Jones' best selling albums
Los Angeles - October 6th Rickie Lee Jones, at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, gave a compelling, rawboned performance that wasn't always easy to watch but certainly worth it. On the road to entertainment, the audience was unknowingly guided through a kind of catharsis with Rickie Lee and her music and stories, and her palpable connection with her adoring audience.
The Broad Stage was sold out for this performance and why wouldn't it be? The iconic Rickie Lee, beautiful, state of the art space with plenty of free parking and amenities outside on the terrace while you wait. It's lovely. But even though it was sold out, at show time, initially there were there were a few empty seats down front. The show was to begin and was announced, but then we waited. And waited. Was it Rickie Lee?
They announced her and then — we waited at least another 5 minutes. The audience started to get restless so the management put on inane banjo music. Finally, after a twenty-minute delay and the audience becoming audibly restless, Rickie Lee came onstage. There she was. Big, warm, lopsided grin, no pretense, she just came on stage as if she were coming into your living room.
She then started, after making mention of the empty seats. Expecting something from the new album, "The Devil You Know", she opened very quietly instead with some old favorites. Not a particularly auspicious beginning. Only later did it dawn on the audience that she's a pro and was marking time waiting for stragglers to get there so they wouldn't interrupt her show later on.
Finally, they came in. She looked right out at them at and chided them for being so tardy and we were right there behind her. We had been on time and patient and now we were special friends with the "cool kid" on stage. The kind of kid you were forbidden to play with when you were little. The one that was exotically dangerous. That's Rickie Lee Jones. And that was the evening - exotically dangerous.
With everyone settled in, she commenced strumming and chatting with casually funny and spontaneous remarks, as she made sure everything was just right. She seemed so benign. She wasn’t.
Rickie Lee's "Sympathy for the Devil" from her new album is an interpretation that would frighten Lucifer, Mephistopheles and Beelzebub himself. When she finished she was so delighted with her self because she knew she had scared the beejeezus out of most of the audience.
Her "Coolsville" from her first album in1979, "Rickie Lee Jones", sounded like a hip exorcism with Jeff Pevar playing an ominous organ background and her being all the characters. If her characters seemed like an ingrained part of her persona, that's because they are.
"Rickie Lee Jones" and "Pirate" co-producer on both albums, Grammy winning Russ Titelman, described the scene when they were making "Pirates" and it put much in perspective. "She was reading Rimbaud while she was writing the "Pirates" album. To me, she is like one of the Beat poets. Able to create a world full of fringe characters who were actually her friends (a little like Tennessee Williams meets Charles Bukowski) and made them come alive. What other writer in pop music had the moxie to mention a guy named **** Finger Louie?"
We heard about the origins of this song as she was describing her early life in Hollywood. Her long time friend Sal Bernardi, moving up to Hollywood from Venice Beach, Nero's Nook, porn stores and dildos and eponymous names that follow suit. There was unrequited love and self-imposed celibacy with a sort of smirk knowing that the audience would be in on the joke. The Catholic Church, a priest with obvious and visible "sexual urge", and nuns with impure thoughts - she spared no one - especially herself. She sang about "watching heartbeats go by" reducing all people to just their commonality of a heartbeat and humanness.
With the evening of mostly ballads with just Jeff Pevar on guitar and Ed Willett on cello as her back up, they were all things to all people. Rickie Lee's sort of baby voice turned into a screaming banshee wracked with pain. Sometimes if were as if she were singing to herself while talking to the audience. And then sometimes singing to us and talking to herself. Pevar and Willett harmonized with harmonies from some otherworldly place and made their instruments become whatever the song required. The three on stage were totally self-contained and Pevar and Willett were always expecting the unexpected.
The audience was like a group of pilgrims on some journey from Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" or Boccaccio's "Decameron". Trust was everything on this journey where no one was sure what the destination was to be. There were the songs from "The Devil You Know", and there were songs every one was anticipating from over the last thirty. This audience loved her and was happy with whatever she was doing.
The evening, which was seemingly short two hours with no intermission, had a curious closing but certainly within keeping of the mood. After bows, Rickie Lee shooed Pete and Ed off the stage and stood alone in front of the mike and simply sang "The Moon is Made of Gold" written by her father in 1954, the same year in which she was born. It seemed to be a lullaby to soothe us after our seductively tempestuous evening of otherworldly music and storytelling. But, I'm sure no one in the audience went home and immediately fell asleep after this experience.
"One seed of humanity upon the burnt earth of inhumanity...will a forest find. There is only one devil. Do not be afraid of yourself."
Rickie Lee Jones - "The Devil We Know" 2012